REPUTATIONS ARE part and parcel of classic motorcycle ownership. Reputation says that 1960s Bonnevilles are brilliant and oil in frame 1970 Bonnevilles are unreliable and leaky. Kawasaki triples don’t handle. A Ducati is hard to live with. Norton’s 750 Atlas has a reputation for not being as good as its 650 Dominator sisters. Popular lore says the Atlas is vibratory, over-stressed, bulky and unreliable.
It was a stopgap, says the legend, a bike that sat uncomfortably between the Dominator and the Commando. It was built for Americans who wanted a big engine on a big bike – a mile eater. The Atlas was the last-but-one Norton to feature the featherbed frame and had the penultimate incarnation of Bert Hopwood’s original 1940s 497cc Dominator engine which had been stretched out to 745cc, later to become the Commando 750 and 850.
The Atlas’s reputation for vibration and unreliability is given the lie by this 1965 example. Ginger’s Atlas has done a quarter of a million miles. It’s been as far as India, around the Soviet bloc and has been ridden over the Atlas Mountains and halfway across the Sahara off-road, following the desert telegraph wires with the bellmouths on the carbs sucking talcum powder fine sand into the engine. Halfway across the desert nomad tribesmen advised him not to travel further if he wanted to survive – and he took their advice, riding back to Morocco.
The Atlas is largely as Ginger bought it in 1969, barring a replaced tank and seat, and being officially written off twice. On one occasion after a head-on collision with an Italian ambulance an insurance inspector decided the frame was bent, However, Ginger thinks that the inspector simply measured it from the wrong points and there was nothing actually wrong with it. The unmarked paint job on the frame is original and looks as good as it would have done when the Atlas rolled out of Burrage Grove.
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